Stage 4: Giovinazzo to Bari, 112km
Nacer Bouhanni claimed his maiden grand tour victory in a small group sprint after the peloton forced racing to be neutralised over fears of slippery roads on the finishing circuit in Bari.
While it was disappointing for both spectators and TV viewers to see the peloton pootling along en masse for nearly two-thirds of the stage, their concerns were understandable. Rain falling on smooth, worn asphalt in Bari – a finishing circuit to be negotiated eight times – rendered the roads greasy and highly dangerous.
After protracted discussions between several riders and the race director, it was agreed that general classification timings would be taken at the start of the last lap, with points but no bonus seconds awarded at the finish line. As if to prove their point, there were three crashes in quick succession on the final circuit, despite riders tip-toeing through the corners at near-walking pace. It was like watching Formula 1 cars in the wet on slick tyres, only with a pronounced risk of collarbone, road rash or other injuries.
It’s not the first time a stage has been neutralised by concerns over rider safety. A stage at the recent Tour of Turkey was briefly neutralised after several crashes in the wet. Last year’s Giro was severely disrupted by cold and wintry conditions, including the complete cancellation of one stage. (That stage is being re-run this year as stage 16.) And in 2010, Tour de France yellow jersey Fabian Cancellara took it upon himself to neutralise the chasing peloton on slick roads in the Ardennes, even though it cost him both the stage and the race lead to Sylvain Chavanel.
The crashes we did witness occurred with the peloton riding without the pressure of staying together to avoid time gaps. At the time of writing there are no reports of serious injury. Now imagine the carnage that could have occurred if all 190-plus riders had been riding at full speed.
Neutralising the race may have been an unpopular decision. But it was the right decision.
VeloVoices rider of the day
FDJ’s Nacer Bouhanni finally broke his grand tour duck in his fourth participation.
For sure, a lot of things went his way today. Double stage winner Marcel Kittel withdrew with a fever. In the final sprint Giant-Shimano’s Tom Veelers was supposed to be leading out Luka Mezgec, only for the Slovenian to suffer a gear problem through the final corner with 350 metres to go. Veelers ended up having to sprint for the line himself and was easy pickings for Bouhanni, who was never threatened by the following Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek).
But equally Bouhanni had had to bridge across to the front group in the final kilometre, having suffered a mechanical problem which required two teammates to relay him back to the peloton with just 9km remaining and then move him into position for the finish.
If this, his sixth victory of 2014, was ultimately one of the easier races he will ever win, it was nonetheless well-earned. With Kittel now out of the picture, the 23-year-old has every chance of adding to his maiden grand tour win in a field now notable for the absence of Kittel, Greipel, Cavendish and Sagan. This win gives him an important psychological edge over Nizzolo, Ben Swift (Sky) and Elia Viviani (Cannondale) in the battle for sprint supremacy.
Stage 4 result
1. Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) 2:22:06
2. Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek) same time
3. Tom Veelers (Giant-Shimano) s/t
4. Romerto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida) s/t
5. Elia Viviani (Cannondale) s/t
1. Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) 12:28:43
2. Alessandro Petacchi (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +0:08
3. Daniel Oss (BMC) +0:10
4. Ivan Santaromita (Orica-GreenEDGE) +0:14
5. Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEDGE) s/t
6. Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEDGE) s/t
7. Svein Tuft (Orica-GreenEDGE) s/t
8. Serge Pauwels (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +0:19
9. Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) s/t
10. Julien Vermote (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) s/t
Points leader: Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ).
Mountains classification: Maarten Tjallingii (Belkin).
Best young rider: Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE).
Team classification: Orica-GreenEDGE.